In the last 5 years, there have been TWO major breakthroughs I have experienced:
1. Realising that I am an introvert.
2. Realising that I am a highly sensitive person (a HSP).
My discovery of being an HSP came from my introverted-related reading, when I stumbled across the work of Dr. Elaine Aron; I'd already had a hunch there was some connection between introverts and sensitive people.
The phrase itself, "highly sensitive person", was coined by Dr.Aron who is considered the authority on the subject. She began researching high sensitivity as far back as 1991 and continues to research the subject today.
The phrase is self-explanatory, highly sensitive people are just that. They are more sensitive to their environments and surroundings, more readily taking in energy through their senses. Of course, as always, we are all unique and beautiful and complex individuals - and so the degree of our sensitivity varies and, even our sensitivity to different stimuli might vary (for example, a HSP might be particularly sensitive to smell, but not light).
That said, our 5 senses are more "sensitive" to (affected by) stimuli than the average person.
I always described myself as a sensitive person, in the traditional sense of the word. I knew was a sensitive child, and I would (and still do) find songs and films particularly moving (I used to cry at during films in my teens, and I have also gotten teary-eyed at various moments during my adulthood). I really *feel* things, and absorb the energy from around me. This is why I am particularly careful these days about the company I keep. It's also why I had a mini-meltdown in the car on a family trip to Sweden, an occasion my family still remember well…
Here’s what happened: several days into our driving around the Swedish archipelagos for hours at a time, the 4 of us together in a car at close quarters, and with the same couple of CDs playing music (on top of which I had my own headphones in to get some form of musical variety - and turned up loud so I could hear it above the car CD player)... I flipped. I was sensorily-overloaded and overwhelmed. I was probably also tired and in need of water in a hot, stuffy car.
It's why I would feel so utterly exhausted from a day's work in my sales job in the city, plus long commute each way. And if I go out for a drink and have a late night, or drink a coffee, or tuck into a bag of Haribo sweets, I find myself over-aroused and hyperactive for a time, with the high inevitably followed by a depletion in mood.
With my high sensitivity comes high empathy, an ability to tune into others feelings and easily relate to them, feel what they feel, and thus respond accordingly and put them at ease. It’s a gift as well as a curse, more on that below.
Anyway, that's high sensitivity in my words. Over to Dr. Aron, the expert, so says:
- It is normal
- It is innate
- You are more aware than others of subtleties
- You are also more easily overwhelmed
- The trait is not a new discovery, but it has been misunderstood
- Sensitivity is valued differently in different cultures
Interestingly, her research has found that that roughly 70% of HSPs are introverts, 30% are extroverts.
So what does being an HSP mean in actuality, and what benefits does it give rise to? You can read about some of those over here on a couple of awesome blogs for introverted and highly sensitive folks, IntrovertDear and HighlySensitiveRefuge.
Ultimately, high sensitivity is a beautiful gift. We can often be content with the simple things in life (e.g. a nice bath, a cosy night indoors), we feel things and make connections that others miss, we judge characters and empathise well, we don't need much alcohol/coffee (if any!), we notice things that others miss, we can process things at a deeper level, we're very empathetic and intuitive, we are great at learning languages. Many of the great creatives and artists of time past and present were HSPs. Tim Bergling, the artist better known as Avicii, was one of them. I suspect plenty of others were/are too (e.g. Kurt Cobain, Sia, Lorde, John Lennon, Barbara Streisand, Mozart and probably a whole host of others).
However, with great power comes great responsibility... or, in other words, with those advantages there comes a flip-side.
Us HSPs need to nurture ourselves in other ways that the average person might not necessarily need. For example, managing our environments and schedules so that we function at our best and don't get overwhelmed or worn out. Getting enough (high-quality) sleep and not drinking too much alcohol or caffeine (both are a rarity for me, personally) are a couple of examples. I have to really consciously manage my energy, whether it’s the environments I work in, the people I spend time with or even interact with (however fleetingly) on a day-to-day basis. Look out for a future post on energy management. It’s taken me a long time to realise just how crucial this is to my functioning and my wellbeing.
This is exactly why the day-to-day practicality of things like freelancing/remote working can be highly appealing to HSPs. Being able to control where, when, and how we work - best for our minds and bodies - is a blessing.
However, even if you work a regular 9-5 job in an office or other workplace, an awareness of your high sensitivity means you can still manage your day and work as best you can. Whether it's getting a slightly earlier train that isn't as busy/stressful, starting the day with some form of movement or meditation, or putting in place a bedtime routine that settles you and gives you a good, quality night's sleep, or adjusting you diet/beverage consumption.
There is great power in know if, as an introvert, you are also a highly sensitive person. Find out by taking the test over here.
PS. As an example, as I'm drafting this article there's a couple sat on the chairs nearby - the guy is particularly animated with his body, though he's not talking too loud. I find myself more aware of that than, probably, the average person would be. It's a little distracting. I'm more sensitive about his presence, and it's distracted me from my flow. (Highly sensitives often describe doing their best creative work (Cal Newport calls it ‘deep-work’) when we don't have outside distractions which can knock our sensitive minds off course. That said, the right mood music can work a treat for my concentration depending on the activity I am doing. We’re a curious bunch, us sensitives! ‘Tis all about concocting the right conditions conducive to our energy patterns throughout the day…
Another note: I would also argue that HSPs, as we process things more deeply as they happen, it therefore requires deeper processing/introspection to untangle thoughts and conflicts, etcetera; which is perhaps why the act of writing/journalling is so helpful to help us do this, over and above simply thinking about it; talking it through with someone isn't usually so effective for me, and I don't like talking through my stuff with others, anyway.
“To me it was something I had to do for my health (decision to quit touring). The scene was not for me. It was not the shows and not the music. It was always the other stuff surrounding it that never came naturally to me. I’m more of an introverted person in general. It was always very hard for me. I took on board too much negative energy, I think.” - Tim Bergling, aka Avicii
Sunday, 4th November 2018
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